Tuesday, February 19, 2013


BATMAN #17 — And so at last we come to this. It’s only been four months, but each successive chapter of this main run of “Death Of The Family” has done such an effective job of ratcheting up the tension and elevating the stakes that after the first four parts of just the Snyder/Capullo main run, so much as opening up to this final first page was an almost unbearable proposition. I straight up paced back and forth through my living room for an extra ten minutes, had to knock down an extra Lone Star for the courage to finally proceed. Of course, everyone thought it was going to be Alfred’s head on the platter and so that meant that it couldn’t be, but then I tried to imagine what was the absolute worst thing that could happen, how could the Joker gut Batman most effectively, and the simple answer was to kill his son. I mean, there’s nothing worse. And that also would have done a real number on the fans, even in this jaded era of event deaths and next-month resurrections. And sure, there could have been a Lazarus Pit for Damian. His mother has a key to one or two of them. But it wouldn’t diminish the impact of the loss of life, his father holding the weight of that little lifeless body in his arms. I really did not want to read this comic book. But then it was midnight and what finer time to begin? A solid set-up with the splash on Pages Two and Three. No one’s dead yet, but no sign of Alfred. Okay, wait, Alfred’s alive but all Jokerized, which still elicits a “Thank God” from his surrogate son. And but then at last the reveal of what’s under the covered dish. Followed by a perfect layout from Capullo, that composite heart panel, almost like the sidekicks comprise the various chambers of Bruce’s heart, say, but then with the Joker underneath professing his own horrifying brand of undying love. “Beneath my grin, though, is just more grin!” is an incredible line. And I dig how Batman finally replies with nothing but a declaration of absolute hate. That’s perfect. Twists within twists: their faces weren’t really cut off and they’re all okay, and Batman should leave them to hunt down Joker for good, only then the bomb goes off and they all get gassed and start trying to kill one another. And we’re going great until we get to the last last climactic exchange between the two over the edge of the cliff in the underground cave. Batman makes the decision not to kill Joker because of course he mustn’t, but now he’s suddenly figured out who Joker is? And is about to whisper his true identity when Joker hits the boobytrap on the cowl and gets shocked and squirms out of his opponent’s grasp to fall to yet another indeterminate fate. Total lack of resolution. I mean, I see how that’s the way it had to go, something like that. This can’t be the last page of Miller’s HUNT THE DARK KNIGHT, the third installment of that landmark story, that kind of thing isn’t going to fly here in the monthly “main” continuity. It just felt like this was entire thing was all set-up, very intelligent and perfectly conceived set-up that failed to deliver on anything lasting. Not that I wanted Alfred or Damian’s head on the platter. But that bit about the Joker’s identity at the very end is a microcosm of what left me kind of squinting askew at the final few pages of this. The whole thing left me feeling quite empty. Maybe that just means it worked. I do quite like how the title of the arc came true, the only actual casualty of this whole mess, at least for the next little bit here, appears to be the tightly knit set of foster relationships that Bruce has cultivated with his various sidekicks over the years. Which was all part of the master plan, naturally. Curse you, Joker!

BEST OF WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN #17 — And then but here comes this slice of perfection barreling up out of nowhere. Tomasi/Gleason/Gray have been killing it since Day One (and I think Kalisz has been onboard that long?), but it is a true testament to the full extent of their powers that they can roll up right behind the conclusion to such an overall well executed event and knock it out of the park with a damn dream issue. I mean, this kind of thing is usually a throwaway, heavy on the shock and spectacle because nothing needs to count, there doesn’t have to be logic, but it’s hard to make any of it stick or feel like it in any way matters. This series of dream sequences, however, manage to provide characterization while dropping us down the rabbit hole of the Wayne family psyches. Damian works through some not surprisingly dark imagery of everybody else drowned in a submarine holding tank before chasing a robin into his father’s pivotal bell-ringing encounter with the bat in the parlor. Alfred, no surprise, conjures up Thomas and Martha in order to see them one more time before knocking out some traditional wish fulfillment by unloading both barrels of a shotgun all over Joker’s face. But then Bruce, man, I can’t quite unpack that entire mess, his parents fall out of his boat and then various rogues threaten to capsize it but instead the whole mess tumbles into the belly of a Jokerwhale? And then Damian pulls him up out of the water, saves him in a way that he couldn’t save his own parents. Dreams are weird. But just a beautiful last scene there, the one-two of Bruce checking on Damian, tucking him in and patting on him, the boy smiling and then dreaming of watching the sunrise with his father. Stirring material. Really strong work from all parties.

COMEDIAN #5 — Fast Eddie’s Vietnamese hijinx continue and they are about as unfunny as we’ve all come to expect. With a dash of baby-eating allusion to bring the point home. J.G. Jones and Alex Sinclair continue to provide lush photo-realistic art as perfectly suited to the tone of the character as Azzarello’s brutal and unflinching script. The bit about 500 being an unacceptable threshold for the American public accepting casualties rings particularly true. And Bobby. It would actually be kind of a brilliant twist if, after all this time, Eddie turns out to be the clandestine assassin for the other Kennedy brother. In the next six to eight weeks, we’ll know.

FATALE #12 — And that’s two issues of this one in a row. Like THE UNWRITTEN, I’m finding that I dig this series more when it breaks from the main narrative and just runs wild down a tangent track. In both cases, the regular stuff is of course terribly compelling, but these offshoots have an energy, a momentum to them that is contagious. The creators infect you with their excitement for their sudden whiplash-inducing left turn. Here, we finally meet another Femme Fatale who is tied up in the origin of all these shenanigans thus far. But, even better, Brubaker and Phillips welcome Bettie Breitweiser to the book as regular colorist. Losing Dave Stewart would be a catastrophic blow to pretty much any creator-owned title such as this, but of course this dynamic duo gets right back on their feet with one of the best and most underrated colorists in the business. Beautiful work, all.

STAR WARS #2 — The team nails another opening scene, we get a shot of Han/Chewie interaction before Boba Fett shows up and then there’s just enough time to plot a course through hyperspace and jump to lightspeed before the Star Destroyer shows up to corral the Falcon. I’m pretty sure I did exactly this with action figures in 1982. Leia watching the Alderaan tourism video is a nice touch, as is the conversation between the simulation tech and Wedge about what a cocky pilot Luke is. He was much whinier just a little while ago, fellas, old Biggs Darklighter could tell you a thing or two. Wood succeeds in making this new Colonel Bircher fellow interesting and engaging in his first three pages. That’s not all the groundwork that needs to be laid, we meet six new characters in a single page. It’s interesting, as much as you’d think the personal details would help lock down all these new folks in your mind, the two descriptions that stick out most aren’t anecdotal but planetary: “Tess Alder, from Corellia,” and “Gram Cortess, from Alderaan.” What is that last shot of Prithi supposed to mean, though? She’s got something going for or against Leia or Luke? She’s the spy? And but of course killer and gorgeous last page. Not even that much really went down this issue, but I already can’t wait for next month.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #9 — Well, it seemed to me that last issue was the big finish of this title’s first major arc, and the majority of the climax certainly went down, but this epilogue delivers more than enough thunder all on its own. With a little help from FDR: A.I., our heroes track down and eliminate the scattered members of the cabal who have until now held the world under their thumb. Strange bit of synchronicity, the A.I. referring to Truman as the cabal’s “big stick,” the same name that Azzarello has Edward Blake originally choosing for his masked identity on up the page a bit. This particular big stick meets his grisly fate at the hands of Oppenheimer, all the more horrifying from taking place off-panel. And great fake-out with Kennedy’s speech in Texas there, of course all anybody’s expecting is them sending him off to his assassination, but it turns out to be the inspirational “We choose to go to the moon,” number from September ’62 at Rice, ghost-written by Feynman, apparently. So but, wow. All this has basically amounted to the pilot. The stage is set. Our amoral monstrous protagonists have installed themselves as the secret rulers behind the powers that be on both sides of The Iron Curtain. What Happens Next? has never been a more compelling question, as far as this series is concerned.

MORNING GLORIES #24 — And another Ike issue comes through with the big revelations naturally leading to more questions but providing more substantive answers than we’re used to getting. As ever, much appreciation to the creators for providing such a ridiculous amount of content at absolutely no additional cost. 44 pages, ad-free, for $2.99. That’s like nine dollars worth of business over at the Marvel! This story needed that much room to breathe, though. Of course, Spencer isn’t merely dicking around by naming his father/son combo here after the immediate ancestors of Jacob, but actually straight up invoking the Judeo-Christian mythology that winds up getting inverted in a scene that plays as surprising but is actually completely set up in hindsight. Eisma and Sollazzo continue to barrel along at an almost Kirby-level pace, regularly slamming out pages faster than pretty much anybody else you can name these days, always putting storytelling first but never sacrificing the quality of staging, composition, body language, facial expressions. These guys are operating at a high level of craft and making it look much easier than it is, all in the service of a hell of a ripping good story.

AMERICA’S GOT POWERS #5 — And speaking of value, here we have three dollars for 28 pages of Hitch/Neary/Mounts goodness. 29 pages, really, that last one double-page splashes into the inside back cover. That’s more than enough, right there. Dear old Wossy isn’t just dialing right in and breaking my heart with any of this characterization, but the story clips along at a brisk pace and he certainly never fails to keep you engaged and wondering where the plot is heading. It’s interesting, what an almost house style this art team is unto itself at this point, Mounts wasn’t on AUTHORITY, but of course it started there (or with STORMWATCH, but splitting hairs, there), then ULTIMATES, that FF run with Millar, and now over here before heading back to light up the good old 616 here in a just a bit with some Ultron fighting time. If you need an army of super-folk filling up the sky, no one can do it for you like these fellows.

FANTASTIC FOUR #004 — Fraction really lathers up the doey-eyed loving goodness as Reed delivers a second-person narrative aimed at his true love, recounting their first days of courtship. It’s an ideal time for it, make him as sympathetic as possible, because of course there’s no way he’s able to keep the real reason behind their space/time field trip a secret from his beloved for long, and oh but it also turns out he’s the one who traveled back in time to drop some ancient prophetic cave paintings for some alien civilization they just now met who, surprise, actually turns out to not be horrible and bloodthirsty. At least, so far. A sweet little shot of Valentine’s, this.

THE UNCANNY X-MEN #001 — You know how just the taste or smell of something you haven’t experienced in a long time can rocket you right back to the last time and place when and where you did? I think that Proust fella wrote a few words about such a phenomenon one time. I seldom experience such a sensation with new books on Wednesday nights, but man, that very first page, Maria Hill striding down the hall but like we’ve never seen her before, body language, the simple lines of her face, the characters’ stance in relation to one another, and those colors, oh it’s vintage Bachalo, I’m a teenager falling in love with Death learning the high cost of living and having the time of your life and then the yearn and burn of Paige & Starsmore for one another over in that first and forever greatest GENERATION X. It’s funny, I’ve seen new Bachalo pages as recently as this new Wolverine series with Aaron and then seems like at least something else since that killer “Assault on Weapon Plus” arc back a ways on Morrison’s NEW X-MEN but just something about the set-up this time out sent the floodgates of nostalgia crashing down and roaring open. So. That was nice. But how’s the rest of the book, the actual content? Well, with Bendis behind the helm, it is no great surprise that the entire thing takes place as a conversation between two principles and one of them is his beloved Agent Hill. But the main news, the real deal, is that almost half of this thing’s twenty pages are slightly askew double-page layouts of Bachalo drawing the Sentinels whupping up on Cyclops’s Uncanny Brotherhood and getting whupped upon in return. A pretty binary situation, that’s either going to turn you off and earn a Pass or you’re immediately going to have to see this robot-fightin’ time for yourself. On the reread, this one does come off a bit skinnier than the justice getting slung over in ALL-NEW, but the reveal on the last page does skew the status quo better than what we were supposed to be afraid it was, and hey, Bachalo Sentinels.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


DETECTIVE COMICS #17 — These guys Layman, Fabok, and Cox are just going for it so hard with such consistency, it’s really starting to freak me out. I can tell that I’m going to run out of things to say about this run pretty soon now, because every single time out, I love every aspect of every page, there really appears to be no room for improvement, I will soon be reduced to simply listing what happened and pointing out the various aspects of how great it was. I guess start pining for a Mason Savoy crossover appearance, maybe. That’s it, this run won’t be perfect until that’s happened.

ANIMAL MAN #17 — It’s all been building to this, the final assault on Arcane from two fronts. Lemire & Snyder keep the action moving and Pugh and Green again both turn in fine work in styles that manage to be unique but not clash. I do appreciate the decision to delegate them specific groups to draw and not expect the reader to reconcile two different versions of the same character when there’s more than enough going on here with this ensemble to not need to pass various folks around. The choice of new Green Lantern is particularly inspired, I would definitely be very much all over any further adventures from that particular fellow. Perfect cliffhanger, everything’s humming along quite nicely here. Over to you, Holland.

SWAMP THING #17 — And but, hell. Where the fuck is Marco Rudy? Nothing against Andrew Belanger. Out of context. I’m not familiar with his work and he turns in perfectly serviceable pages, certainly better than anything I can produce. And he’s going for those organic Paquette panel-border layouts. But it’s impossible to read this as a monthly fan without taking the situation into context. We are at GoTime here. This is the finale of something that’s been organically building with nary a misstep across two titles for a year and a half. I get the whole thing about how you can’t always have Paquette every month, but here’s the deal: don’t send Rudy—who has been nothing but terminating his alternate slot in this title with extreme prejudice since the get-go—his marching orders before seeing this thing through to the end. I just presumed that #15 being his last issue meant that we were solid with Paquette for the duration. I don’t care if Rudy picked up a Spidey book for the other guys. Booting him out of spite only hurts the title and the fans who have supported it all this time. It would be one thing if they brought in someone else who just blew it up. Gene Ha did stellar work over in ACTION and even a lesser-known name with serious proven chops like Eddy Barrows would have been a great fit. As is, I never managed to fully engage with the story due to my frustration with Editorial over the art not quite living up to the insane bar that this title has consistently set for itself since September 2011. Looking to be crushed next month but am not pleased with this hiccup.

GREEN ARROW #17 — Okay, I’m admittedly a bit lost, as this is my first issue, I came onboard with the new creative team, but it appears as though Oliver has been completely rebooted and was another beautiful nameless no-dialogue extra on Seasons 3 and 4 of L O S T immediately before this series/issue began? The questions don’t matter, Lemire provides us the bare bones of a status quo before completely upending it and throwing in the nemesis yang to our hero’s yin. I’ve been a big fan of Andrea Sorrentino since X-FACTOR and these pages are taking it to a next level, reaching for that J.H. Williams greatness with the occasionally uncolored in-panel squares highlighting crucial limbs/weapons in the fight. Also, gorgeous colors. Are any other New 52 people coloring their own work? It doesn’t bode well for a lack of fill-ins, here’s hoping editors Cavalieri/Stewart check back in to the Rudy school of thought in that regard when the time comes, as opposed to what we just got a minute ago in SWAMP THING. This first issue didn’t just annihilate me, but the creators are top drawer and I look forward to seeing what else they’ve got in store.

MULTIPLE WARHEADS: ALPHABET TO INFINITY #4 —I can’t tell if the four-month Graham blister bender I’ve been on this last little bit jamming all of KING CITY and regular installments of PROPHET and then this entire thing too finally like gave me an overdose or if I’m just bummed that Sexica and Nikoli didn’t show up in this issue or what, but this one didn’t fill me up with the usual magic. That’s of course badly understating and kind of terribly taking for granted all the wonder and greatness  and undistilled fun that Brandon Graham still manages to impart upon every single page. The stretch from “Cannibal Run” to “Sphinx to High Heaven” containing the Disbelief Suspension Bridge is maybe my favorite sequence of pun insanity thus far. Until the Marx Men show up. To say nothing of all that absolutely rabid pear nonsense at the end. And I’m a huge fan of the Six Paths Out of Nowhere to Anywhere. I’ll probably sit on this for a few months and work up an appetite before downing all four in a single sitting and finding new things to love about this that escaped me on the first couple of passes through.

FASHION BEAST #6 — Wow, there is a ridiculous amount going on in simply those first three pages alone: the silhouette-play crosses over from any pretense of subtlety to have the reader all but reading the dialogue of the Beast/Le Patron in the author’s rumbling baroque Northampton accent, also that bit about the bald ape inventing fashion, and then climaxing in the “for in the image, there . . . is . . . power!” line, which of course has all kinds of resonance in the comic book industry that it didn’t twenty years ago. I know this was written a few years before that, but, especially delivered by his proxy avatar, that line serves to comedically enhance the mythical magus legend that Moore has crafted around his public persona, further makes him seem like this wild sequential Nostradamus of the eighties, scribbling out phrases and throwaway plot ideas that predict or self-fulfill into relatively seismic events and changes in the industry landscape decades later. Glamour, indeed! The face reveal, it was a perfectly executed shot/counter-shot between the odd/even page-turn, but at first it seemed like we shouldn’t have gotten to see his face, not now, if ever. Really seemed like a mistake. But it did lend the following conversation a bit more depth than it would have otherwise had. Perfect last shot, there at the end.

DAREDEVIL: END OF DAYS #5 — Yet another seismic installment of one of the greatest Daredevil stories of all time. I’ve said it before, but I’m so so glad I didn’t wait for the trade on this, even bought #1 with the intention of doing so but just wanting to get the first chapter after all of these years, only then I couldn’t stop, but the tremendous benefit for everyone who’s picking this up serially is we have a real-time seven-month gap between that opening scene and finding out what the hell Mapone means in the final issue. The mystery has weeks and weeks and weeks to percolate and fester in our imaginations, accruing all kinds of weight and poignancy and expectation that is simply impossible to achieve for a reader who just sits down some time next year with a really gorgeous hardcover and jams the entire thing in a single sitting. So, all of that said, what’s my take on this particular issue, the first one of the back half of the series?

Well, I’m certainly a fan of opening with a Sienkiewicz-painted Punisher VS Daredevil splash that tosses out the old crackpot theory that they were really the same person. While we all know that can’t be the case, just the simple idea sent my brain racing to make connections, rewrite exchanges. “I am Matt’s great vengeance and furious anger.” The idea of Matt training his disciple is so spot-on from a character standpoint, I’m terribly embarrassed not to have immediately hit upon it as soon as I made it to that last page of the first issue. And but wow, it’s been cool enough revisiting all the C- and D-list members of the rogues gallery but one of, maybe THE, very first issue of DAREDEVIL that I bought new off the spinner rack was, I wanna say #267, well into the Nocenti/JRJr run with Bullet fighting Hornhead on the cover with his little daughter in the background, so it hit me a lot harder, much more personal emotional resonance, Bullet rushing in like that at the end, as opposed to someone like Gladiator or various other folks we’ve dropped in on so far. And of course the cliffhanger is heartstopping and as good as it could possibly be. Rescue from plummeting to death and potential answers are only four weeks away! I’m really just terribly grateful to all of these guys—Mack, Bendis, Janson, Sienkiewicz, Hollingsworth, Caramagna, even that old Wacker—for producing such a quality product and proving once again that no matter how many great stories have been told about a character (I mean, look at it, the original Miller run, Miller back with Mazzucchelli in one of the greatest Marvel stories of all time, Bendis/Maleev with a little help from Mack, Brubaker/Lark), it’s always possible to dig a little bit deeper and try to pull out maybe the best one yet. Inspiring work.

ALL-NEW X-MEN #7 — Kitty trains three-fifths of the founding crew and Mystique takes a walk with young Scott. Bendis continues to completely nail every character voice. Had talked myself into holding the line against picking up UNCANNY with Bachalo, in some small way rein in this bi-weekly Marvel Now! rampage, but the only one I’d be hurting is myself. Marquez and Gracia turn in pages that put storytelling first but still manage every single time to be a series of lush breathtaking snapshots that you can stare and stare at all on their own without wondering what happened before or after, whatever you’re seeing right there in that moment is more than enough. I am curious now for the first time what kind of a timeframe Bendis has for this thing, I mean, he can keep it going for a while, but seems like this is a finite situation. By definition, no? I’m going to throw a blind dart at the board and say the last issue is #35, due this Christmas.

AVENGERS #5 — Here this book is again! That’s three in three weeks, True Believers. We have here another –centric issue introducing us to a new member of the team and, correct me if I’m wrong, one of the two new characters that Hickman has created for this series. Izzy Dare is an impressive figure, managing to join the Imperial Guard on her own merit, though she’s certainly got the genes for it, since her grandfather’s name can’t be a coincidence. Isn’t he English, though? That screwed me up, when I got to the name at the end, realized I’d been maybe doing the accent throughout? Kubert’s work is commendable as ever but I do miss Dean White on colors. Wonder what team is next on deck. A couple more singles with Kubert/(Frank) Martin first? Is Frank Martin, in fact, married to Laura? If so, is it wrong that I like him better?

BEST OF WEEK: NEW AVENGERS #3 — Holy shit! Those first two issues, as tremendous as they were, definitely seemed to be little more than set-up for some very serious business to crash through into the good old 616, and here we have it. Four days later, indeed. The events that take place in this single issue deliver more drama, shock, and raw seething imagination crackle than anything that anyone writing for Marvel has ever ever managed to pack into any of these so-called Big Events that keep coming down the pike as reliably as spring blooming into summertime. That is not hyperbole. There are two massive plot points that take place in these twenty pages alone that would deliver upon any level of supermassive Internet hype, the kind of which is regularly heaped upon these crossovers. That’s the joy and wonder, I’m not picking this up curious to see what massive paradigm they’re going to shift askew for a little while or who’s going to get killed and then resurrected a few months later, I’m only expecting to be completely blown away by events on a scale that is immense enough to justify this gathering of heavyweights in the Marvel Universe. I really dug that initial ILLUMINATI mini-series that Bendis and Reed banged out a few years back that serves as the jumping-off point here, very intelligent retcons packed throughout, but ever since then, I haven’t felt like the concept was able to translate into present-day events with anything even approaching the amount of weight and gravitas that such an undertaking warrants. Those days are done. What’s happening in this title is, for my money, the biggest event that the House of Ideas has ever produced. I mean, a fifty-word sentence summarizing exactly what takes place in this issue is all that it would take to convince even the most jaded corporate comic boycotter, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. Same goes with attaching the best images to this post, even unlettered, just the Epting art alone would give too much away. Just buy the first three issues of this book.
This was the first time, I totally missed it last issue, but the connective tissue between this title and the other one is most likely “the event” that happened in a parallel universe and triggered this multiversal calamity in the first place. That’s got to be the White Event that Adam referenced in his encrypted dialogue up on Mars over in #3 of the other title. If the Psi-Hawk shows up, I am going to seriously lose my shit, it will not be a pretty thing. Though, hey, just realizing that getting JRJr to draw Kenneth Connell/Star Brand is more probability than possibility, if the New Universe is actually the place Hickman is looking to take this mad narrative. Wild wild times. The only slightly false note to be found here is that that last page is more than a bit reminiscent of a crucial plot point in a ten-year-old DC event, but I can almost No-Prize myself into reconciling that via the entire parallel worlds/realities conceit of this series and the fact that Captain America and Batman are Marvel/DC equivalencies, if not analogues, pretty much without debate*, so this is just the way all of that mindwipe malarkey played out in the 616. Without the ridiculous amount of color-coded first-person narrative captions that make you spend half the book trying to figure out who the hell is even telling you the story. I am out of my mind for this thing, can't wait to see where it's heading next.

* SEE: “Under the Red Hood” vs “The Winter Soldier”; “The Return of Bruce Wayne” vs “Captain America: Reborn”; the pair’s interaction in Busiek/Perez’s pitch-perfect JLA/AVENGERS

Friday, February 8, 2013


BATMAN INCORPORATED #7 — All right, I totally missed that ninja-ManBat swooping our guy up into the upper right corner of the first page the first two times I read this. Though I still love the layout. Beryl’s stuttering dialogue is really rough going, and I mean from an emotional standpoint not one of comprehension. And then Damian and Alfred. Man. It is a shame that the world is likely ever only going to get two or three dozen more panels of them exchanging Morrison-scripted dialogue. Every line is so perfect at this point. We’ve come so far. And oh but hell. That enforcer fellow reminiscent of a Middle Eastern Bane being a Damian clone is another lunatic twist of perfection that is of course painfully obvious in hindsight. I thought Tim was toast. But is Jason, really? Are we supposed to come away with that impression? It didn’t even occur to me the first pass through but then later on I saw something about a hero dying this issue. If so, almost a hilarious lack of fanfare worthy of this permutation. That Ellie-Bird lady who got away, let’s not forget her, she’ll surely have some pivotal role to play. The shot of Bat-Cow and Ace and Alfred the Cat huddled up in a nap is a glorious homage to Baltazar’s Super-Pets, hard to handle. Again, Damian and Alfred take it on that last scene, such incredible chemistry. And good hustle to Jason Masters for rising to the rough rough challenge of pinchhitting for Burnham on a scant three pages and doing a more than reasonable facsimile of his style. Don’t want this to end. But can’t wait.

BEST SINGLE OF THE WEEK: BATMAN AND ROBIN ANNUAL #1 — Tomasi and the usual crew of Gleason/Gray always deliver entertaining slices of interaction between Damian Wayne and his father but in this annual, Tomasi brings in Adrian Syaf and Vincent Cifuentes to help produce an issue that is not only the best single of the week but one of the best done-in-ones I can recall reading for quite some time. The conceit is forehead-slappingly obvious in hindsight. Damian rigs a global scavenger hunt for his father, sending him gallivanting around the world to uncover fairly seismic bits of evidence pertaining to Bruce’s parents that he has remained ignorant of his entire life. While Bruce is out of town, though, Damian has the run of Gotham and doesn’t waste any time, setting an alarm for sunset and rampaging around the city all through the night, running afoul of criminal and cop alike. Thus, we have a compelling juxtaposition of the maniac assassin-trained sidekick running amok with as much pure unfettered joy as you might expect a ten-year-old to express in that situation opposite very well written and thought-out character moments from Bruce’s early childhood or the days of his parents’ marriage before he was born. And Alfred breaks out his Shakespeare costume and takes another ride on the boards of the Globe theater, most of which is left off the page but conjured in our imaginations to glorious effect. I really really love this story, find it thrilling but am also ridiculously proud of Tomasi for hitting a new high with such a tremendous character. Top drawer work, all around.
FLASH #16 — Damn, you wouldn’t think the art on this book could get any better and then here comes the first page. And the next two pages. And why stop there? It just keeps happening! Manapul & Buccellato continue their high-velocity rampage with no signs of slowing down. One of the best looking books on the rack but with enough narrative heft and character work to back up all that beauty.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #16 — Janin’s lush work took a dip on this one, I can’t believe some of these pages weren’t a fill-in. The deadline crush! It does one’s heart good to have Frankenstein’s adventures continue within these pages. Constantine involuntary blurting the truth is a clever idea that it seems should be played to more humorous effect. Humourous? I do like the new secret origin of the Books of Magic, that works. And that is one gorgeous last page.  

OZYMANDIAS #5 — An elegant bit of retconning here, Wein corrects a major plot point that he found objectionable over twenty-five years ago. He found the similarity between Moore’s answer to why the Comedian was killed (because someone wants to perpetrate the greatest hoax in the extant history of civilization and use a giant fake alien squid to prevent Armageddon and unite humanity) and an old episode of THE OUTER LIMITS just a bit too close for comfort and insisted that Moore dig deeper and change it. Of course, Alan wasn’t having it and Wein wound up walking off the title as editor sometime around #10. All this time later, Wein winds up writing the autobiography of this title character and comes up with the reasonably organic solution of having him scour the annals of popular culture for inspiration and just straight up happening upon that very episode. This is the second BW retcon in as many weeks that I’m totally on-board with, which I certainly did not see coming this time last year. It also makes total sense that the majority if not all of the tech advances are brought about through Adrian surreptitiously co-opting Dr. Manhattan’s abilities. And the cover to this one is brilliant.

THE UNWRITTEN #45 — We take a break and check in with Savoy, who really isn’t that bad of a guy, still. Worth it for the page of misspelled zombie fiction by the twelve-year-old alone, good night, I lost about five minutes there, laughing my ass off on the couch.

MARA #2 — Mm, maybe Wood has just spoiled me with THE MASSIVE but I come away from this one with the same feeling that I did from the first one. The art’s very pretty and the story is somewhat intriguing, but this one isn’t delivering enough punch to justify picking it up in singles, particularly with this cliffhanger being such a miniscule escalation on we got last issue. I will gladly pay half-price for this trade the first time I see it on the shelves of Half Price Books.

GLORY #32 — Beautiful damn cover. And then that first panel is something special, as well, I’ve got to say. But then I was sorry to see that this was a jam issue, really dig Campbell on interiors. I should have had more faith, Owen Gieni’s style is a great fit for Riley, but then Emi Lenox dropping in on Henry is suddenly the greatest most wonderful thing ever, all through the lense of a vintage camera and looming death. Though I don’t recognize that Question ripoff there in the next scene. Nanaja + The Baby wants to be its own one-shot spinoff. Checking in with everyone for Last Moments scenes wound up being a cool way to pad an art-jam issue and hopefully give Campbell enough lead-time to bring this baby home. Awesome last page.

HAWKGUY #7—Fraction and Hollingsworth bring in Lieber for a Very Special Superstorm issue and of course it’s got as much heart and emotional weight as you expect from this crackerjack creative team. Clint continues to not be an Avenger and help one of his neighbors get his dad and all that’s left from his dead mother out of his house before ceding the back half of the issue to Katie-Kate, who has her own Jersey wedding adventure, that phrase pretty much saying it all. As much as I adore Aja on this series, we’re in a pretty good place when the fill-in guy is able to drop possibly the most iconic shot of Miss Bishop thus far, that last solo panel when she turns and hollers “Jersey rules!” And of course the last page is perfection. Clint and Kate are already close to my favorite relationship in comics at this point. Not counting Damian and his dad. And Damian and Alfred. Rubbing my hands together in gleeful anticipation of how this crew might fold Noh-Varr into the situation in light of that first scene from Team Phonogram’s YOUNG AVENGERS.

AVENGERS #4 — It’s always good fun to ignore the solicits and then find an A-lister like Adam Kubert on one of your favorite titles one fine Wednesday morning. With that opening arc behind us, Hickman zooms out to a relatively ancillary C-team, the back six of eighteen, you could say, as they deal with the arrival of a sixth origin bomb at the Savage Land. But the real meat of this issue is the secret origin of Hyperion, which, I can’t tell if we’re rebooting it here or just streamlining Gruenwald’s deal with the original SQUADRON SUPREME or cleaning up JMS’s MAX version, though I strongly doubt the latter to be the case. Regardless of whether this is an ultimatized continuity or a brand new one, the point is that our Superman analogue is not the most stable of fellows and a timebomb that will in all likelihood detonate at a most inopportune moment, I’m going to guess sometime around #11. Which will probably be out by like the end of March, the pace we’re running, here. This is the first issue of the run in either title that I felt could have used a little bit more meat on it to justify the price-point, but you know, Hickman and Kubert on AVENGERS, I guess they’re wearing me down on that $4/20pgs thing over time but that still makes plenty of sense.

BEST OF WEEK: THE ONE TRICK RIP-OFF & DEEP CUTS — It isn’t really fair to compare this to other books that came out this week. What we have here is nearly three hundred pages of early Paul Pope, beginning with a graphic novel that I believe was serialized in a dozen or so issues of DARK HORSE PRESENTS that Bob Schreck commissioned after reading something Pope self-published at Comic-Con ’93. Those were the days. The kicker is that these twenty-year-old pages have been newly colored by Jamie Grant, one of the very best colorists in the industry, which is the best news I ever could have received from the Table of Contents. I’ve only managed to track down a single later issue of THB, so that until now 100% and HEAVY LIQUID have been the earliest look I’ve had at Pope’s development. And you can see how this right here is the work of a young man, the momentum and narrative energy of the thing carry you right on through from the first page. But it’s wild how developed Pope’s idiosyncratic style already is at the age of twenty-three. Of course he kept evolving all though his twenties, and naturally continues to do so, but so much of what is unique to his work is already there, mostly or fully formed: the way he draws those brash confident faces or lips that can pucker into a seemingly endless succession of expressions, the obsession with international cuisine and Indian food in particular, the frenetic camera work that rockets you right through an action scene and then slows down and zooms out for wide-open panoramic landscapes . . . I’ve always really loved the guy’s work but don’t think I’ve been afraid of him until now.
And that’s not even discussing the 160 pages of shorts that comprise the back two-thirds of this thing. A couple are only single-pagers while others stretch out to almost forty pages long, but it’s fascinating to watch his development over the course of eight years from Columbus to Toronto to Tokyo manga immersion and winding up in New York City, the only logical conclusion for an artist whose vision is a unique synthesis of Kirby and Moebius and manga and a bunch of other guys I’ve never even heard of, blending American superhero kinetic dynamism with lush and delicate European hyper-detail with the smash-cut action energy of Japanese comics. This is an essential book for any fan of one of the most exciting American artists of his or any generation.